This Side of Paradise | Study Guide

F. Scott Fitzgerald

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This Side of Paradise | Book 1, Chapter 4 : The Romantic Egotist (Narcissus Off Duty) | Summary

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Summary

During Amory Blaine's last two years at Princeton, he begins to notice a shift in his fellow students, who seem less satisfied in belonging to an "institution" and begin to quit their clubs in the hope of reform. Amory's friendship with Burne Holiday begins to grow, and Burne encourages him to consider new stances on politics and social class that Amory had never pondered before. Amory marvels at Burne's evolution as a thinker and student and remembers moments over the past two years when Burne demonstrated his "earnestness" about ideas and established his individuality. Amory admits to Thomas Parke D'Invilliers that Burne may be the first person his age he's ever met who is superior in "mental capacity." Amory begins to try on a new "eccentric" attitude, but he agrees with his friend Thomas to indulge in "rest periods" when they are alone together. He brings Burne to visit Monsignor Darcy.

Monsignor Darcy asks Amory to go visit his third cousin, Clara Page, in Philadelphia, who is recently widowed with two small children and whom Amory has never met. After meeting her, Amory is smitten by her, but he realizes that no man is good enough for Clara, let alone himself. He finds himself growing jealous of her past and anything that takes her attention away from him, and begins to spend every weekend with her. Amory finds himself taken with Clara's honesty and feels that she sees him as he really is. He realizes that hers is "the only advice he ever asked without dictating the answer himself," with the possible exception of Monsignor Darcy. When he mentions the possibility of marrying her in the future, Clara reveals to Amory that she has never been in love, and that she'll never marry again.

The once-distant war begins to encroach on the haven of Princeton when platoons begin to practice in its gymnasium. Students read poetry about the war by men their own age and imagine their own heroic deaths. Burne Holiday declares himself a pacifist, and he and Amory debate the merits of nonresistance. Amory can't help but wonder if he is missing out on some conviction. Meanwhile, Burne sells all his possessions and leaves the college a week later. Amory's remaining friends debate what they will do when they are enlisted into the war. That spring, their time finally comes to leave for training camps for the war. The night before they are to leave, Amory and Thomas wander the campus, discussing how the future will view them and the decisions about the war.

Analysis

Burne Holiday, like Thomas Parke D'Invilliers and Monsignor Darcy, has a strong influence on Amory Blaine that few other people do. But whereas Thomas and Monsignor Darcy share many of Amory's views about the world, Burne stands in stark contrast. He doesn't care about how society views him and rejects the prevailing view of the war by becoming a pacifist, or someone who opposes war. The narrator notes that "Burne seemed to be climbing heights where others would be forever unable to get a foothold." Amory is disinterested in the war almost entirely, so Burne's actions are in direct opposition to his own, and therefore fascinate Amory.

Amory admits that Burne may be the only person he's met who he believes is superior in "mental capacity" to him. Even though they don't agree on the issues, Amory has a deep respect for Burne that causes him to question his own intelligence and understanding of the world. In a way, his obsession with Burne reflects Amory's own aimlessness and lack of purpose in life, in which he drifts along from disappointment to disappointment rather than developing any real convictions. Burne acts as an alternative to Amory's point of view.

However, at this point in the novel, Burne's only direct influence on Amory is to inspire him to become "an eccentric," an act that is superficial and designed to impress by outward appearance. Even Thomas laughingly asks Amory to indulge in "rest periods" from this newly adopted pose, knowing that it is not authentic on Amory's part but merely an act. But Burne's ideas do influence Amory later in the novel when Amory advocates for socialism in a conversation with Jesse Ferrenby's father. Burne's social aims are deeply empathetic toward other people—something that is in direct contrast to Amory's egotism. Years later, Amory's admiration for Burne persuades him to become less of an egotist—a "Narcissus off duty," as the chapter's title suggests.

Amory's relationship with Clara Page marks a shift in Amory's views of women. Clara is different from his past loves—she's widowed and has two children. Nor is she smitten with the illusions and postures that Amory presents to her. Rather, she sees Amory's authentic self, and this ability transfixes Amory because he is truly "seen" for who he really is for the first time.

No one has ever called Amory out on his egotism before, and Clara accurately determines that it is merely Amory's lack of self-confidence that spurs this pose. Amory is struck with the revelation that "Clara's was the only advice he ever asked without dictating the answer himself," which is a rare moment of self-awareness on his part. Yet Clara does continue the trend for Amory of an ultimately unrequited love because Clara declares that she will never love any man, let alone Amory. This immediate rejection, however, is also a first for Amory, who has considered his charms irresistible to women up until now. This gives Amory a new way to conceive of himself and helps him begin to develop some sorely needed humility.

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